Continuing my series of posts on the biblical roots of the papacy, we have finally come to the NT. In a book that was influential in my own conversion to Catholicism, the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (current Pope Benedict XVI), wrote that “it would be misguided to pounce immediately on the classic proof text for the primacy, Matthew 16:13-20.”1 Thus, I will not begin with Matthew 16, but will rather end this series with several posts focusing on different aspects of that passage.
That being said, please bear in mind that I am not intending any sort of deductive argument based on any of the observations I make in this present post, I am merely attempting to set the stage for the prominent role St. Peter played in the NT as a framework for showing in later posts how this prominent role is in fact an office within the Church Jesus institutes, fulfilling the Kingdom of Israel from the OT, transforming its very structure and essence.
We can begin this discussion with the list of apostles Jesus gathered around Himself. In his last publication before he died, the Romanian Orthodox (formerly Lutheran) church historian Jaroslav Pelikan makes some very interesting comments based upon the textual traditions concerning the list of apostles in the NT. Dr. Pelikan makes the following observation:
“the name Judas had come last not only in the Gospel of Luke, but in all three of those lists [of the apostles]. Within all three, moreover, the order varies in other ways as well, and even more so in some manuscripts…except for the one striking fact, which it is extremely difficult to explain as an accident, that the name Peter always comes first, as it still does in Acts.”2
Writing further on the same page, Pelikan comments:
“The Gospel of Matthew…also stipulates ‘The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter’; the word ‘first’ in this passage is an adjective, [prōtos], not an adverb (Matt. 10:2), which would seem to give it more significance than merely that of a sequence in an itemized list.”3
In other words, had the list used “first” adverbial, as in “first Simon, second, Andrew,” etc., then the word “first” would simply modify Simon Peter’s place in the list. Pelikan points out that it is used not adverbally, but adjectively, thus the word “first” here modifies Simon Peter himself, as the (proper) noun, and not simply his name coming first in the list. Thus it is not simply being used as “first there’s Simon Peter, then there’s Andrew, and then…”, but rather is closer in meaning to, “the one in the position of primacy is Simon Peter.” He is the first, as in preeminent one.
In the next post, we’ll turn to St. Mark’s Gospel, following some of the insights of the evangelical Protestant scholar Dr. Richard Bauckham.
Brown, Raymond E., Karl P. Donfried, and John Reumann, ed. Peter in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Roman Catholic Scholars. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1973.
Cullmann, Oscar. Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Acts. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2005.
Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996 (1991).